I am often speechless these days. It is hard to trust the words I have known to convey what it is like to go on living since my son Ian has left. My writer self, like the rest of me is cast out beyond the language that I once was able to use so effortlessly. Grief has swallowed not only my ability to express what is happening inside and around me, but often even the will to try. It is a desolate landscape this space, walking beside the valley of the shadow of death. Simultaneously magnetizing to those nearest to the lost loved ones and repellant to most everyone else, grief has the power to unite and divide with equal ferocity.
I am not alone in grief’s messy aftermath. In fact, once you know the place, it is easy to see how it hides behind so many exchanges, longing to be witnessed and seen. This in fact is one of the most powerful and healing offerings we can give to a griever. As I witness the people I love most try to make sense of their lives, without the words to name or understand how this grief experience dwarfs everything that remains, I am humbled. We long for the simple happiness that we took for granted. Many days I miss my old life, my old self as much as I miss Ian.
I have always known myself through action and agency. It has always been in the doing – and many have rightfully argued overdoing – where I have created a rhythm for my life and found comfort in my days. So it has been with this grieving. In addition to the blessing of work that I love to do, surrounded by people who care for and support me, I have actively tended to Ian’s memory. In this last year I have been the organizer of memorial trips and ceremonies, setting up a scholarship fund in his name that will outlive us all, as well as the dedication of beautiful benches and markers.
Mostly though I have searched for ways to heal myself and my family. We have been fortunate to have amazing healers dedicated to our broken hearts. And I leaned heavily on my previous yoga and mediation work with my best teachers and became a certified Yoga teacher. I travelled to Italy to study the ancient scriptures on death and dying, and will soon be making a pilgrimage to India. I have turned my attention in service of the most significant and least understood life changer: Grief.
Learning to live in this world apart, this space of the heart where love is shattered yet magnified transforms every moment. Everything that has ever been said or felt turned over and over in the mind as a precious jewel. All that remained unsaid, like a heavy stone in your pocket that goes with you everywhere. I know that grieving isn’t something that is gotten over, but rather a new way of living that demands to constantly be gone through. And how we manage the waves of unpredictable and staggering grief is together. Indigenous cultures know this truth better than most, and likewise, understand that this deep healing happens only in community. Some tribes stand shoulder to shoulder for weeks or months keening and sobbing their collective losses.
But for many of us, it isn’t easy to find community in grief. In many traditional grief groups, grievers are hidden away in dark hospital or church basements. Some rarely leave home after devastating loss. All of this inspired me – in my “doing” ways – to open a new healing space called Anahata Heart Center of Eugene. This space is dedicated to the healing power of grieving in movement and in community. Although I would still go back in time and change anything to have Ian back, the only way forward is through learning to praise what I have lost and make space for the witness.